I never planned to be a stay-at-home wife. After graduating college, I got my master’s degree in library science and quickly landed a job at a library. At first, I thought it was what I’d wanted. I was never the girl who could sing or dance or act or do sports. I was the good student … the reader. That was my identity. But over the course of the six years I spent at a public library in Nashville (where I live), my workload tripled … and my salary didn’t. I went from being a librarian to being a librarian/volunteer coordinator/PR person. Those changes would have been a lot easier to stomach if I’d gotten a raise. I asked my boss for one, but to no avail. Instead, I was stuck with the same pay and working exactly one hour less than full-time, which meant no benefits.
During my time at the library, I married my husband, Keith, who works 60 hours a week (at least!) as a computer programmer. His long hours meant most of the housework fell to me. To be honest, I never minded chores. Walking the dogs, doing the laundry, making the beds … it all appeals to my domestic side. I truly enjoy it. But trying to keep up with two workloads — in the office and at home — was too much. Keith and I used to sit down to dinner at 10 p.m. and eat some disgusting meal out of a box. We were grumpy and sluggish and gaining weight because we didn’t have time to make real food. Sure, I could have hired a housekeeper. But why work at a job I hated, making just enough to pay someone else to do the work I loved?
Keith and I discussed it and agreed that we could get by on his salary. We’d been anxious to sell our condo, and we decided my time was better spent adding value to our home. So last October, I quit my job. A generation ago, being a homemaker was an unremarkable choice. Nobody batted an eye at a woman who chose to forgo a traditional career in favor of cooking and cleaning. Now? Not so much. I do feel judged sometimes. People think I sit around eating chocolates and watching soap operas all day. “You must get your nails done so much,” they say. Staying at home when you don’t have kids is so unusual, it’s almost scandalous.
When I told my mom, she understood. The person I was most concerned about disappointing was my mother-in-law, but she wasn’t judgmental. I did have a friend who gave me a hard time about it because he thought it was a bad idea for me to “tie myself to a man like that.” He said I was setting myself up to get screwed if my marriage failed, since I will have been out of an income and out of the traditional workforce, making it harder to get a job should Keith and I split. He told me I would be a “downtrodden housewife.” I told him I didn’t want to live my life in fear of “what if?” That I was married now, and I had to believe that was going to last. (My friend did later apologize.)
Still, “What do you do?” has become the hardest question to answer. “I keep the home” is apparently not a valid response. “But what do you do?” people will say.
I do everything it takes to make a household run. On a typical day, I get up between 9 and 10 — the luxury of a stay-at-home schedule! — and I walk our two dogs, make the beds, and do a load of laundry. Then I clean whatever room is on my schedule (Monday is bathrooms; Friday, I change the sheets and clean the bedroom). After the cleaning is done, the laundry goes in the dryer, and I take an hour of me time — surfing the internet, reading blogs, returning e-mails, or responding to comments on my own blog, where I post book reviews and interior design ideas. After lunch, I usually work on a home-improvement project, like putting up trim or painting the bedroom, or I run errands or groom the dogs. When I was working, we paid a groomer $140, more than I made in a day. This way, we’re actually saving money. There’s more than one way to add to your worth.
By 3 p.m., I’m thinking about dinner — what to make, what ingredients I want to use up. I run to the grocery store if necessary. Dinner is on the table by 6:30. Instead of eating microwaved meals, Keith and I are eating roasted chicken breast with bruschetta tomato topping, melted buffalo mozzarella, and balsamic reduction (and I’m losing weight since we’re eating less processed junk). After dinner, Keith usually has to work from home, often until 1 or 2 a.m. Since I don’t have to be at an office the next day, I stay up with him. We get to enjoy each other’s company instead of passing out at the end of the day because we haven’t had a moment’s downtime.
Last week, Keith and I were at an open house. We met a couple, and the usual small talk ensued. They asked in my direction: “And what do you do?”
“I was a librarian,” I answered, trying to avoid my usual long explanation. “Now I’m getting our home ready to sell.” It’s the truth, if not the whole truth.
I don’t think I’ll ever go back to an office job. If I get bored, maybe I’ll take on a part-time gig or volunteer. Or maybe we’ll have kids, and I’ll be a stay-at-home mom, a role people seem to understand more easily (we haven’t decided if or when we’ll have children).
For now, we’re happy with this setup. We spend time together and are both doing what we love. And believe it or not, I haven’t had my nails done in six months.